Wednesday, 6 March 2013

THE ANATOMY OF A HANDSET FOR BEGINNERS


Two of my favourite handsets reviewed last year: Samsung Galaxy Note II and SIII. 


























THE ANATOMY OF A HANDSET FOR BEGINNERS

Good afternoon, Synapse Circuit Readers! I think that Samsung has done something truly amazing... They’ve replaced Xmas – not as a religious event but an occasion to receive wonderful gifts! Hey, don’t complain to me! Complain to the Pope!

I have been getting a few emails from you Lovely Ladies regarding the technical jargon surrounding mobile phone spec... Here’s a crash course...

THE CPU
Think of today’s smartphone as a miniature computer that fits in your pocket! Each computer has what is known as a central processing unit = CPU. It is also referred to as a processor for short.

The processor is the brains behind the computer and smartphone (which is a computer with the ability to make telephone calls).

You have probably seen the CPU being referred to in “dual-core” and “quad-core” terms. Basically, what dual and quad core means is that the CPU or processor contains two or four ‘brains’ (processors) in one. In other words the CPU is capable of performing multiple tasks such as playing a video whilst other applications such as Gmail, WhatsApp, Skype, etc run in the background.

Dual-core does not necessarily mean that it is better than a quad-core processor. However, the trend these days is for quad-core processors to be featured in handsets released this year: The HTC One, Sony Xperia Z, the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy S4 and so on.

Dual-core processors usually feature in less expensive handsets such as the Motorola RAZRi or the Samsung Galaxy SIII mini.

The speed of the processor is measured in gigahertz = GHz. The higher the number i.e. 1.5 GHz the faster the processor is.

RAM
RAM stands for Random Access Memory. RAM allows the applications (apps) to have room in order to function quickly. For example older handsets with a small RAM capacity will almost certainly be slower at loading a web page and / or Facebook interaction.

RAM is measured in megabytes, MB and gigabytes, GB. A gigabyte is one thousand megabytes so instead of saying 1000 MB we say 1 GB. The more RAM the better! You will find that the most expensive handsets will have the most RAM. This year there will be many handsets with 2 GB of RAM.

Budget and midrange handsets can have anything from 512 MB to 800 MB of RAM. Lately budget handsets are starting to feature more RAM.

The more RAM on a handset the more applications can run at the same time, multitasking!

STORAGE
Going back to the computer analogy, a handset requires storage space just like a computer uses a hard drive to store data. There are two types of storage associated with a handset: Internal and external storage. As per usual, the higher the number the bigger the storage space! High end premium handsets such as the Galaxy SIII start out with 16 GB of internal storage. This should be more than enough for most applications. The Galaxy Note II can have up to 64 GB of internal storage capacity!

In addition to the internal storage you can increase the capacity further by adding a microSD card. Some handsets will go as far as 32 GB and some will enable the use of 64 GB of microSD storage. It is not desirable to run applications from a microSD card even though some apps allow it. Running some apps from a microSD card can slow down the performance of a handset.

Also note that some handsets do not give you the option of extra storage via a microSD card! The iPhone is notorious for that and lately some Android handsets are following what I see as a negative trend. As a result of not being able add additional storage via microSD you have options to purchase a handset with a set amount of storage i.e. 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB. I think this is a wrong move for sure! What is wrong with having a good amount of internal storage for the apps and external for the pictures, video, etc? It makes sense to me!

OPERATING SYSTEM
Yes, just like Windows for the PC and OS X for the MAC computer there are quite a few operating systems for the handset:

Android
iOS – iPhone
Windows for mobile
BlackBerry
 and  lately we have FireFox, Tizen and Ubuntu.

I am sure that there are quite a few more obscure operating systems out there for handsets but I listed the most popular...

ANDROID
Android rules the world at the moment. Yes, I have been aware that some of you thought that Android was a brand of phone. No, Android is owned by Google and it is a brilliant operating system. Google has made Android free for any manufacturer to install on their hardware i.e. HTC, Samsung, Motorola, ZTE all feature the Android operating system.

Google have codenamed their different versions of Android with names of popular deserts i.e. Ice Cream Sandwich (version 4) and Jelly Bean (version 4.1 and 4.2). The fifth version will be Key Lime Pie – or so they say!

Some of Google’s competition has scoffed at the many different versions of Android existing on different handsets. They say that Android is fragmented. However, most Android users do not know the difference. The notion of fragmentation is largely unfounded. Just like when advances in PC hardware occur Windows has to evolve to adapt and this can mean that older PCs will not be able to upgrade to the latest version of Windows. So, as today’s handsets are advanced you can be sure that you are getting the latest version of Android.

There are some handsets that were released with Android 4, Ice Cream Sandwich, which will be able to receive an upgrade to the latest version. Upgrades are dependent upon the manufacturer making sure that the upgrade will not compromise the workings of the phone and the networks agreeing that the upgrade will not interfere with their software that they have placed upon a particular handset. This is why some upgrades will happen slower or faster on the same model. In other words, my Galaxy SII was the last to receive the latest version of Android even though owners of the Galaxy SII on other networks were able to receive the update faster.

If your handset is more than 3 years old then there’s a good chance that an upgrade will not be possible through standard means. You can upgrade your old handset yourself through what is known as “Rooting”. Rooting your handset frees it from the software placed on it by the manufacturer; you can install custom versions of Android from a few sources such as Cyanogenmod. It sounds complicated and it is. However, if you have time and patience you can do this.
This is why some people – especially the competition (and their fans) says that the Android operating system is for geeks! But it is not the case! With Android you can go deep or just use it as you would any other handset. You do not have to be a geek to customise the way you want your handset to look!

Incidentally, Android runs on tablets too!

iOS iPHONE
The next popular operating system is the iOS as found on the iPhone. iOS 6 is the latest version. People like iOS because it is very simple. However, people soon discover than the iOS is not “the most advanced mobile operating system in the world...” according to Tim Cook. iOS is very, very good but it is now behind Android in terms of features. Sadly, because of the Tech Wars: The Battle of the Patents, Apple opted to produce their map app that fell short of expectations. Plus there were quite a few bugs with the iOS 6 upgrade.

There is a sort of fragmentation that exists on the iPhone in that older handsets aren’t able to receive the latest operating system.

I do think that iOS is ok. Obviously, as a Tech-Writer I have to choose what I think is the best overall technology and it is not the iOS. I am sure that Apple is working on making iOS 7 the best possible operating system!

I am curious as to what will Apple do next for the iPhone. Watch this space!

WINDOWS MOBILE
This operating system is not bad. I like it very much from what I have seen of it. I had some handsets to play around with and I think it is good. Obviously, I still prefer Android for the moment as it really just does what I want how I want. I will keep a watchful eye on the developments...

BLACKBERRY 10
BlackBerry are still in the game – just! I do hope that they will be around for a long time to come as they keep the competition sharp!

I like this operating system, but I feel that it is not quite there yet. It’s gesture based and I have to say that I have been spoilt rotten with Android as I feel that it is the best operating system going in that there are menus that enable me to return to an app, swipe apps away that are running in the background and so on. However, I feel that there is great potential for BlackBerry!

THE REST?
I have yet to try the latest operating systems but out of FireFox, Tizen and Ubuntu I think that Ubuntu has the most potential as it comes from Linux and Ubuntu is an alternative to Windows for the PC. We’ll have to wait and see... I believe a version of Ubuntu for mobiles can be installed on Android handsets. Ubuntu transforms your powerful quad-core handset into a PC (with the Ubuntu operating system)!

THE DISPLAY
The display has undergone many changes thanks to a combination of the iPhone’s Retina display and to Android’s larger displays from 4 inches up to around 6 inches.

The most popular displays are IPS and Super AMOLED. Lately, the manufacturers are boasting that their screen / display is full high definition which is 1080 x 1920 (default portrait mode). Essentially, this means that they’ve taken a 21 or 22 inch computer monitor and condensed it to a handset screen. Therefore, the colours are sharper – blacks are black and text is ultra smooth and not jagged! Then the manufacturers boast about having the highest PPI = Pixels Per Inch. It is very much the same as DPI = Dots Per Inch whereby if you look at newspaper pictures closely you can see the tiny dots that make up the whole (picture). The more dots you can pack into an inch of picture the less you can see them. It is the same with pixels, the more pixels you can fit in an inch of the screen the less you’ll be able to see the tiny pixels. Anything above 350 ppi is technical excellence.

On cheaper handsets the quality will not be as sharp and you do get what you pay for. But if you are thinking of spending roughly £36 per month and over for a handset you can bet that the display will be of a high standard. Apparently, the eye cannot discern pixels at over 440 ppi!

There are quite a few different displays available but I will not go into detail. Again, when you pay for a premium handset you know that you are getting a very good screen. Oh, most screens are covered in Gorilla glass that will enable more durability than most other screens. You can still break them but it could take an effort or just plain bad luck when dropped at an angle and  / hard surface (get a protective case)!

THE CAMERA
For most people the camera is an important feature. This year we will see the cameras on premium handsets going from 8 megapixels to 13 megapixels - 13MP in short. Now, larger pixels do not necessarily mean a better picture than say that of the 8MP camera. No! Like when making the decision to buy a digital camera you have to take in the quality of the lens. By and large the camera quality on the iPhone is great as is Samsung Galaxy SIII and Note II (all 8MP cameras). I have noticed that the cameras in other manufacturers aren’t as good. Google Motorola promises that the next handset or handsets will feature an outstanding camera! We’ll see...

The next aspect of a camera is that it also functions as a camcorder. Again, the iPhone, Galaxy SIII and Note II is capable of recording beautiful looking full HD video, 1920 x 1080p – usually at 30 frames per second. You will find that the camera in less powerful handsets such as the Galaxy SIII mini can manage a good 1280 x 720p resolution.

At the rate things are going we will not need a dedicated digital camera or camcorder – unless the highest possible quality is required! As a Tech-Journalist I can sometimes get away with the shots taken by my Galaxy SII (which is capable of full HD and has an 8MP camera).

I have to say that the Motorola RAZRi handset is quite a piece of technical excellence because it features an 8MP camera capable of full HD video. I have yet to test it due to my busy schedule, but from what I can see the quality isn’t as good as the aforementioned handsets but I do believe that exposures can corrected with the right photo editing app and / or software for your computer such as Photoshop or Serif PhotoPlus (X6, review is coming soon). I will have the video and picture examples of the RAZRi soon! I promise! The good thing about the RAZRi is that if you are on a budget you can get this handset for as little as £15 per month! Check it out!

Additional camera attributes is the ability to take panoramic shots, add special effects and being able to edit it without having to use another application.

THE BATTERY

What’s the point of all the above when you won’t be able to use these wonderful attributes for more than a couple of hours before reaching for the recharger! It’s so not funny to run out of battery power when you’re on the road!

Yes, I have bigged-up the RAZRi but it has a non-removable battery. In other words I can’t remove the battery cover and replace the battery. However, the battery life on it is excellent!

The trouble with the Android hulking phones is that the battery power can be lousy what with those relatively large screens let alone playing video, etc. Fortunately, with many Android handsets you can replace the battery. If you are a power user you will almost certainly have to purchase either a battery extension kit or invest in a spare battery! Personally, I would go for a spare battery or two because these battery extension kits can sometimes prove to be the opposite of good.

The iPhone definitely does not allow you to swap out the battery and friends have told me that their iPhone drains quite quickly even on standby!

The best way to avoid reducing the capacity of you battery is to not overcharge it! It shocks me that a lot of you forget or take it for granted to unplug the charger once the battery has charged. When you leave the charger in for longer than necessary you reduce the capacity over time! Don’t do it! You can download apps that will notify you when the battery has charged!

The battery is measured in mAh = milliampere-hour. The higher the number the longer the battery should last. I must stress that it is all relative, for example the Galaxy Note II has a battery of 3100 mAh and it can last a couple of days on standby however when I start watching YouTube videos and so on the battery starts to drain! It is with all handsets. Now, if Samsung could create a battery of double that capacity for all their handsets I am sure S and Note owners will be very, very happy indeed! In the meantime we use spare batteries!

Again, Motorola are renowned for a longer lasting battery more than most other manufacturers. You may have recently heard of Nokia’s battery that lasts days without charging but it is a very basic handset!

There are indications that battery life will get a lot better in the immediate future.

Well, that’s it! You should now be able to make comparisons with other handset features before you decide what is best for you!

Thank you for reading!

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